A growing body of research, including a University of Chicago study, Foundations for Young Adult Success, has linked social and emotional learning (SEL)– which is also known by terms including non-cognitive skills, inter-/intrapersonal skills, soft skills and character development – to success later in life. However, it is not yet known how school and out-of-school time (OST) experiences can be strengthened, aligned and delivered in real-world, urban settings to help children develop these skills.
How We Are Tackling It
Wallace’s six-year initiative aims to align and improve SEL practices across school and out-of-school settings, with benefits to children in six communities and to the broader field through the development of credible, useful knowledge.
In 2016, nine urban school districts and their out-of-school time partners were awarded grants to help the partners collaborate on creating a plan to support the development of children’s social and emotional skills by improving adult practices and climate during the school day and afterschool.
Six communities were chosen to receive six-year implementation grants: Boston, MA; Dallas, TX; Denver, CO; Palm Beach County, FL; Tacoma, WA; and Tulsa, OK. Each of these communities had previously committed to including social and emotional learning in their services to children. Sites were chosen based on fit with the foundation’s dual goals of helping local partners to strengthen their capacity and developing new knowledge that will be useful to the field.
In the first year of the initiative, each district/out-of-school-time intermediary pair share grants ranging from $1 million to $1.5 million. In addition, participating communities receive other non-monetary support, such as inclusion in a professional learning community, regular convenings with other cities in the initiative, supports to integrate and apply SEL data to continuous improvement systems, communications counsel, and other technical assistance provided by national experts such as the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the Forum for Youth Investment, the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, Crosby Marketing Communications and others.
Through an initial phase followed by expanded implementation, in-school and out-of-school time SEL programs will be provided to approximately 30,000 K-6th grade children in 76 schools over the six-year period.
As in all of its work, Wallace seeks to meet two goals: directly benefiting organizations that receive our grants and those they serve; and, gathering evidence that benefits the field as a whole, in this case on whether and how aligning school / afterschool practices on social and emotional learning helps students. Anticipated local benefits include:
- increased opportunities for social and emotional learning;
- improvements in adult practices, learning environments, and instruction; and
- stronger partnerships between the school districts and out-of-school-time providers.
To identify relevant findings and create field benefits, the initiative includes a multi-year research study by the RAND Corporation that will produce public reports for policymakers and practitioners that shed light on:
- what system-level supports are important for school districts and OST organizations to provide
- what enables progress, and what impedes it
- effective ways to enhance the social and emotional skills of adults in schools and afterschool programs
- specific practices and factors that are key to improving children’s outcomes
- what roles partnerships play
- outcome evidence on improvements in children’s SEL and other measures of student success
The new initiative grew out of The Wallace Foundation’s years of work in
youth development, including a dozen-year effort to encourage citywide coordination for afterschool that yielded more than 40 publications and found, according to a
study by RAND, “that organizations across cities could work together toward increasing access, quality, data-based decision making and sustainability.”
In May, a new Wallace-commissioned guide to 25 evidence-based SEL programs was released, offering detailed information about curricular content and programmatic features that practitioners can use to make informed choices about what to use to develop key skills and competencies. Written by Harvard education researcher Stephanie Jones,
Navigating SEL from the Inside Out: Looking Inside & Across 25 Leading SEL Programs: A Practical Resource for Schools and OST Providers also explains how the SEL programs can be adapted to out-of-school-time settings, such as afterschool and summer programs.
Additionally, Wallace also supported a special issue of the journal The Future of Children that examines the development of social and emotional learning in school and afterschool settings, finding that these skills are essential for children and that teachers and OST staff need professional development to help children acquire them.
Partnerships for Social and Emotional Learning